Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shroud of Turin and the Mystery Surrounding Its Authenticity

The Astounding Photograph

King Umberto I
King Umberto I

The last exhibition of the shroud during the 19th century was held over an eight-day period in Turin during May 1898. At the time of the exposition, the King Umberto I of Italy, who had inherited the shroud from his forefathers, granted permission for an amateur photographer named Secondo Pia to take pictures of his holy heirloom. After several attempts and failures, Pia managed to successfully photograph the shroud. He had made two exposures, which he developed in his darkroom, shortly after they had been shot.

According to Nickell, Pia was so surprised by the results that, he almost dropped the plate that was used in developing the photograph. During the developing process, Pia realized that the negative photographic plate revealed an almost 3-D-like image that was much clearer and lifelike than what was actually visible on the shroud itself. Thus, the negative plate exposed details of the image on the shroud that were difficult to see with the naked eye.

Shroud, negative
Shroud, negative

The negative print caught the attention of scientists around the world. They were baffled by the unusual contrasting images and the clarity of the negative print compared to its positive form. Intriguingly, the photograph launched the first modern scientific investigation into the origin and structural makeup of the shroud and the image it bore. It also launched a debate that would pit some of the worlds leading experts against one another in an attempt to determine the shrouds authenticity.

Two years after the exhibition, the shroud came under its harshest criticism since the 14th   century. According to a scholarly French priest named Cyr Ulysse Chevalier, who was an expert on the Middle Ages and the author of several renowned books, the shroud was undoubtedly fake. His conclusions were based on documented evidence that he was able to amass over a period of years.

Pope Clement VII
Pope Clement VII

Chevalier assembled an impressive collection of 50 documents believed to be the first ever known concerning the existence of the shroud. Many of the documents were contracts, receipts, decrees, reports and letters written by such people as the Bishop dArcis, Pope Clement VII and members of the de Charny family. Chevalier learned of the first investigation launched by Bishop Henri de Poitiers and other theologians who discredited the shroud as a fake in the early 14th century. He also discovered that Poitiers successor, Bishop dArcis, continued the investigation, finding further verification that the shroud was a fraud. The most impressive evidence he discovered was a document by dArcis that claimed that the shroud artist had been found and actually confessed to painting the image onto the cloth.

Unfortunately, the name of the apparent forger was never revealed, a fact that later led to the story being discredited by believers. Many asked, if the forger existed, why had they not revealed his name? Others believe that the document speaks for itself, supporting the theory that the shroud is merely a representation of a man resembling what some believe to be Christ and nothing more.

The debate over the origin and authenticity of the shroud steadily increased over the years. Many scientific investigations were carried out to get to the heart of the matter. Moreover, many scientific papers were written on the subject relating to the different theories concerning the structural make-up and image on the shroud. Most scientists took one of three prominent views; they either believed that the shroud was a divine creation or that the image was man made or that it was a natural phenomenon. The Shroud of Turin was without a doubt a mystery that challenged faith, science and understanding, one that rekindled mans inquisitive nature in a search for an explanation.

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